Advice for first high altitude backpacking trip?

Max_Kiel_Trail Hudson Valley, New YorkMember Posts: 3

In 10 days I will be headed to Aspen, Colorado for a three day backpacking trip of the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop. To say that I'm stoked would be quite the understatement.

I live in the Hudson Valley Region of New York, and I have never been hiking out West before. Most of my hikes/runs take place at anywhere from sea level to 5,000' elevation, with the highest I've ever been being Clingman's Dome in the Smokies at over 6,600'.

I'm slightly nervous about catching altitude sickness up at these elevations. We have three full days to complete the 25 mile loop, so we will be taking it nice and slow as to not to push ourselves too hard. Any tips/recommendations to prevent altitude sickness at these elevations? (FYI the trail reaches heights of over 12,000' four times).


  • tina
    tina custer, sdMember, Moderator Posts: 44

    Take it slow, hydrate more than you think you'll need to, bring some strong painkillers for the potential high-altitude headaches, and try some Accli-mate or similar drink mix a day or two before you arrive. it's gonna be great!

  • katethewild
    katethewild EverywhereMember, Moderator Posts: 23

    If you have any chance to sleep at altitude before the hike, do it. In my experience it helps a ton. Even if it’s just one night! It is said that taking chlorophyll supplements a few weeks prior to exposure helps by oxygenating the blood- I have tried but can’t confirm. I like to bring ginger chews in case nausea strikes. Drink a ton of water and make sure you’re eating enough. Altitude sickness can ruin an appetite even after a physically demanding day.

  • Naomibro
    Naomibro TexasMember Posts: 89


    Altitude sickness sucks and is really dangerous! You NEVER know who gets it either. Young, old; male, female; last year you were ok. Same family. Thin. Fat. In shape. Nope, Every year different. It's real, you are not a wuss an have to pay attention. Your brain and spinal cord swell. Terrible stuff.

    The human body has to acclimate. For some, it's hours; Some? It's weeks. Some? months. Some? NEVER.

    Aspen is high.Go to your M.D. before, tell him/her you may have altitude problems. Be completely honest. Try Diamox, a prescription, supposed to "help" altitude sickness, It's a diuretic. Drink more water. Acclimate does not work for everyone. If symptoms persist beyond two days, just go lower. Like really low.

    If you have a headache, puke, get really ants-y, or pick a fight, weird core muscle aches, stomach ache, (and there are other discomforts) you have "it". Time to go home.

    Yeah, it sucks. You can stroke out or croak from this. So not worth it. The over the counter stuff does not work for everyone either. Find other places to hike....

    Go home. Hike at sea level. We still love you.

  • quiggleryan
    quiggleryan Provo, UtahMember Posts: 37

    The most important thing is to take your time and listen to your body. This is probably the most important thing you can do. Just take your time and drink a lot of water and take breaks and admire the view. This will save you from hating yourself or getting sick. Just remember that you are in a different environment and that you will have to adapt. Also take some electrolyte packets so that you can stay hydrated and help with maintaining the sugars in your body. Best of luck!

  • Danimal
    Danimal Wrightwood, CAMember Posts: 14

    I love being above treeline. It has views and terrain like nowhere else. It does however have a downside that can hit anyone, even if you have been fine the last time. AMS(Acute Mountain Sickness ), HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema ), HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema ), and HAF (High Altitude Flatulence ), only dangerous to your tent partner, are the possible conditions. The most likely is AMS which is commonly indicated by headache and nausea. While moving down in altitude a minimum of 1000 feet until the condition improves is the preferred action. For any of the conditions some things that might help are: Water! Drinking at least a liter at the onset of headache will usually relieve it in a few minutes. Chocolate (preferably dark ), and aspirin can help with the headache and ginger (I carry the candied version ) can help with the nausea. The other conditions are rare but the indicators for HAPE are, a rice crispie sound when breathing and possible pink froth when coughing. For HACE, altered level of consciousness, loss of balance, staggering, and irritability are all indicators. Again, These conditions are rare but require evacuation to a lower altitude. A minimum of 1500 feet but more is better. Knowlege is power! it is better to know and prepare than go on believing it can't happen to me. Go out, enjoy, experience the outdoors and know you are a little better prepared to handle the unexpected.